Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled its much rumored “Mesh” platform, a service designed to be the hub of our digital lifestyles: “Imagine all your devices—PCs, and soon Macs and mobile phones—working together to give you anywhere access to the information you care about”.
Mesh – currently in limited Beta – “synchronizes data across multiple devices (currently just Windows computers, but theoretically it will extend to mobile and other devices in the future) as well as to a web desktop that exists in the cloud”, writes Josh Catone over at our sister blog ReadWriteWeb. The service also has a social aspect too, enabling collaboration and sharing. “It can sync data across devices used by a single user, as well as create shared spaces for multiple users”.
For end users, Mesh consists of two components. First, the Mesh software needs to be installed on each device (currently limited to PCs running Windows XP or Vista), from which you can assign folders to your mesh that you want to sync across devices or share with other Mesh users. The second aspect is a Web-based desktop called Windows Live Desktop, enabling access to your “meshed” folders and content via the Web. Also displayed here is an activity stream of updated and syncronized data, including content shared by friends.
However, Mesh is also a platform for third-party developers, providing a framework for syncing files – and applications – between different devices. As Josh notes, Mesh also enables Internet-based applications to have off-line access, not dissimilar to Adobe AIR or Google Gears.
In some ways, Microsoft’s “Mesh” builds on the then ambitious “digital hub” strategy introduced by Apple in early 2000 through its .Mac service and iSync framework. Using Apple’s iSync and .Mac APIs, third-party developers can build data syncronization and online sharing into their Mac-only applications. iSync also acts as the conduit for syncing mobile phones with a Mac. Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t really followed through on its strategy, letting the online component lag behind competing Web 2.0 services, and iSync isn’t 100% reliable and doesn’t support some of the newest mobile phones.
Back to Microsoft: Moving forward “Mesh” will be supported on Macs and various mobile devices (probably starting with Windows Mobile), and will likely heavily rely on the company’s cross platform technology Silverlight. Eventually – and with the help of third party support – Microsoft wants to bring Mesh to all manner of digital devices such as game consoles, set-top boxes, auto PCs, and more.